It’s hard to take Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seriously. And he hasn’t done much in the past several years to convince anyone that he deserves different treatment. Yet political leaders from around the world who visit Israel regularly, meet with him to pay appropriate respect to the titular leader of the Palestinian people. And they rightfully expect reciprocal courtesy from the aging Abbas.
But things have changed since the Trump administration moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, cut funding for Palestinian support programs and issued heated criticism of Palestinian leadership for not engaging in Trump-encouraged peace discussions. Frustration with U.S. policy might therefore explain why Abbas rejected an opportunity to meet with a delegation of 31 Republican members of Congress who were visiting Israel last week, even though he met with 41 congressional Democrats a few days earlier.
Whatever his reasons, Abbas’ decision was a mistake.
The two congressional delegations were on separate trips organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of AIPAC. And though the Democrats got to meet with Abbas, the Republicans were relegated to meetings with PLO General Secretary Saeb Erekat and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. That insulted the Republican delegation.
A Fatah spokesman said Abbas’ no-show was due to a scheduling conflict and that the Republican congressmen were informed of the problem five days in advance. But very few people are buying the excuse — and we aren’t either. “He cancelled on the Republicans,” Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) told Jewish Insider in Jerusalem. “I think it’s because the administration has been awfully hard on Palestinians and very supportive of Israel — which is the right thing to do — and I think he saw the Republicans as maybe not worth his time.”
Across the political spectrum, there is pretty much universal accord that Abbas’ move was strategically unwise. As noted by Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum, “The Palestinians need any support they can get … There are Republicans in Congress who are uneasy about the Trump approach to the Palestinians, and all Abbas has done in making excuses for not meeting with them is to convince them that there is no reason to push the Trump administration on reversing things like aid cuts … He just wasted an excellent opportunity.”
We agree. But based upon reactions from the Democrats, we doubt that anything meaningful would have come from an Abbas meeting with Republicans. As reported by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who led the Democratic delegation, “Frankly, I did not hear anything new. He indicated he was prepared to sit down and negotiate without preconditions — and then he referenced a number of preconditions.”
Maybe the Republicans should be happy that they didn’t have to waste their time.